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Samira Bellil, 31; French Muslim Author, Activist

September 14, 2004|From Associated Press

Samira Bellil, whose book recounting the gang rape she suffered as a teenager in a tough Paris suburb put her in the avant-garde of a movement fighting for French Muslim women's rights, has died of stomach cancer. She was 31.

She died Sept. 3 in Paris, according to her publisher.

Bellil's 2002 autobiographical narrative, "Dans l'Enfer des Tournantes" ("In the Hell of Gang Rape"), explores the violence and drugs she endured during her childhood in a Paris suburb and describes being gang-raped at age 13. Bellil herself was rejected and abused for bringing charges against her aggressors fafter the rape.

The book, written in the street language that Bellil grew up speaking, was a step in her fight to regain a sense of self-worth and quickly became a bestseller.

The publication gave France a rare firsthand account of the troubles faced by girls in the heavily immigrant suburbs that ring the country's major cities.

It also put Bellil in the forefront of a movement fighting to improve the lot of Muslim women and girls trapped in what she called the "cultural shackles" of the suburbs.

Bellil was considered the godmother of the women's rights group Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Submissive).

"All her life, Samira showed an unfailing readiness to fight in battling against the infamy of barbarous machoism and violence," the organization said in a statement. "Her strength allowed numerous girls to resist to achieve their emancipation."

Born in Algeria, Bellil grew up in Seine-Saint-Denis outside Paris, a heavily immigrant region where gangs flourish. In the book and interviews, she recounts unblinkingly her descent into violence that permeated her life and culminated in sexual assault.

Bellil said the book served as a final step in her recovery from the psychological traumas that followed her violent childhood, family rejection and other dramas. "With the book, I really was able to end 15 years of silence," she said.

France's minister for victims' rights, Nicole Guedj, praised Bellil's courage. "The memory of her courage and the force with which she dared to denounce the reality of gang rapes will be with me in my willingness to fight the humiliations suffered by women who are the victims of sexual violence," she said in a statement.

Bellil is survived by her mother and two sisters.

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